Beer Tasting in San Diego

On a recent trip to San Diego the family and I signed on for an afternoon with Brewery Tours of San Diego.  We selected a Friday tour for the opportunity of visiting 3 different breweries, and especially Stone in Escondido.

We were picked up right on schedule, at 10am, just outside our vacation rental; couldn’t be more convenient.  Our guides, Steve and Austin, were cordial and seemed well informed and personally experienced in the San Diego craft brewing scene.  We picked up 2 other parties and were on route for Stone.

The Stone Brewery is a beautiful building surrounded by a lush garden.  In addition to the brewery there is a store, restaurant (highly recommended), a bar with ~100 different beers representing most of the San Diego craft brewers, and lots of outdoor patio seating.

To my disappointment we were not given a tour of the brewery, but were routed directly to and seated in an outdoor lounge and treated to our first beer tasting.  All 4oz samplers.

  • Pale Ale – light colored, “introductory level” mild hop bitterness
  • Smoked Porter – I had no sense of smell during the visit so could detect no smokiness, just a big malty sweetness.  This was my daughter’s and son’s favorite Stone ale.
  • IPA – excellent flowery bitterness; I drank my daughters sample as well as mine
  • Arrogant Bastard – sensory explosion, outstandingly smooth on draft (vs. bottled)

Next was the San Marcos Brewery.  If there is a San Marcos Brewery we never saw it.  We were seated a long table in a pleasant restaurant.  We had lunch along with 5 beer tastings.  Food-wise they have acceptable bar food.  For each tasting the hostess distributed sampler glasses, told us the name of each along with a brief description.

  • Golden Premium Ale – after Stone’s beers this reminds me of Bud Light
  • Honey Ale – a sweet honey taste with a mildly bitter finish.  Very easy drinking.  A beer all 4 of us enjoyed
  • Amber Ale – ah, a return to hoppy bitterness
  • Pale Ale – they claim this their hoppiest beer.  Very smooth drinking, somewhat less hoppy than Stone Pale Ale
  • Pompous Ass Ale – IMHO the tastiest beer.  Big and malty with a slightly bitter finish

Finally on to the Ballast Point brewery.  Here Steve walked us into the brewery and in 10 minutes described the brewing process, pointed out the various worting kettles and fermentors, and showed us the bottling machine; not quite my expectation of a tour, but better than nothing.  Here we had 9 different tastings, and either my taster was inebriated from the previous 10 samples or the beers just aren’t as good.  I lean to the latter explanation, though I am sure some will disagree.  The beers I most enjoy can be tasted from the tip to the back and across the tongue and deliver a variety of flavors that punch through and moderate the bitterness.  Here at Ballast Point, with a couple of exceptions, I experienced no taste except at the back of my tongue.  I wasn’t alone, this stop was a disappointment to the entire family.

  • Wahoo Wheat – very light and fizzy, just a bit more than a bitter club soda
  • Calico Amber Ale – very thin malty flavor, no bitterness
  • Big Eye Ale – like drinking alum water, the bitterness makes you pucker, but there is only bitterness
  • Indra Kunindra – curry spiced, strong curry aftertaste.  This is one beer that could be tasted across the tongue, but it was all bad flavors.  I like curries in Indian and Thai food, but IMHO it doesn’t belong in beer.  I will not make this mistake again
  • Even Keel – like a less bitter Big Eye.  No flavor, just light bitterness
  • Serrano Pale Ale – chili pepper also do not belong in beer.  No flavor whatsoever, just a lingering burn at the back of the throat
  • Black Marlin Porter – I am not a fan of porters so take my review with a grain of salt, but this did nothing to win me over.  Malty and heavy
  • Sculpin – this one is a winner.  Far and away my favorite of the Ballast Point brews.  A step back from Arrogant Bastard’s aggressiveness, but all round excellent.  Lots of flavors and bitterness
  • Pale Ale (formerly Yellowtail) – nice, but muted hoppy flavors and bitterness.  My wife’s Ballast Point favorite, and I’d drink this again

It is about 4pm now and time to get us back into the van.  We were back to our condo about quarter to 5.

To summarize my experience, for a “Brewery Tour” I was sorely disappointed.  Had this been advertised as “Beer Tastings in San Diego” at least my expectations would have been correct.  Then again we might not have signed to go on a beer tasting tour.  On reflection this was over priced for what we got, but since I really like beer it was an enjoyable way to spend a vacation afternoon nonetheless.

A few days later we returned to Stone and joined one of their free brewery tours.  What an enjoyable and informative hour!  After the tastings (same 4 beers), we sat to an an excellent lunch at their restaurant; the best meal I had during our stay in San Diego. 

If you are looking for a designated driver to take you to a few of San Diego’s craft brewers, Brewery Tours of San Diego might be your ticket.  If however you want to tour a brewery, taste some outstanding beers, and enjoy a good meal then I highly recommend a visit to Stone. 

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